England's Peak District: Gateway to the Pennines (Part 1)

May 18, 2022
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AFTER Oxford, I drove northward to the Peak District National Park, between Manchester and Sheffield. This is where the mighty Pennine Ranges of northern England begin.

Location of the Peak District National Park in northern England. The national park is about 60 km (37 or 38 miles) from north to south as the crow flies. Map data ©2022 Google, north at top.

From here on north, though the south of England is gently rolling for the most part, it’s surprisingly wild country all the way to Scotland, with one nature-park after another.

Some of the national parks and ‘areas of outstanding national beauty’ from the Manchester-Peak District-Sheffield area northward to Scotland. Map data ©2022 Google, north at top.

Here is a topographical view that highlights the Pennine Range. For 278 miles or 435 km you can hike the Pennine Way, which begins in the Peak District and ends a short distance over the border in Scotland.

‘Topographic Map of the Pennines’ by Kreuzschnabel, 20 June 2020, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

There is a complete map of the Pennine Way, for info only, on Wikimedia Commons.

The very fact that Scotland and England are separate countries, from most people’s point of view, is because there is such a vast area of wild country between the more populated parts of the two countries. The only big city for hundreds of kilometres is Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

Other mountainous areas in this belt of country are the Lake District and the North York Moors, plus the Cheviot Hills at the northern end of the Pennines, along which much of the border between England and Scotland runs its course. British weather reports often feature epic snowstorms in this part of the country.

At the southern end, in the Peak District, you are still close enough to the cities to see Manchester and Sheffield in good weather conditions.

I read about the Peak District in a book by the late naturalist David Bellamy and then looked it up further in an app called Derbyshire & Peak District. I decided that I had to go there!

The Peak District is a national park in its own right, the Peak District National Park. It is covered in small peaks which aren’t terribly high individually, but which are heaped up with interesting rocks. In fact, the Peak District is the original home of British rock climbing.

Along with the rest of the Pennines, the Peak District is mostly made of a rock called gritstone, a coarse and gritty sandstone that offers a good grip to climbers. Before rock climbing caught on, the gritstone was also an important source of mill-wheels for grinding flour and stones for sharpening knives.

British national parks are quite different from New Zealand ones. In New Zealand, just about all the land in any given national park is owned by the government and all the national parks are administered centrally by the Department of Conservation.

In Britain, the land in the national parks is owned by all manner of people and organisations ranging from local farmers to the National Trust, a charitable heritage-preservation agency. Each national park is in turn run by its own, stand-alone, national park authority. It’s a bit of a patchwork quilt arrangement by New Zealand standards, but that is what comes of living in a country that has been more densely populated, for much longer.

And so, even though the area is a national park, there are some small, old, sandstone villages in the valleys between the peaks. The most famous village is Eyam, which after becoming infected with the Black Death in 1665, isolated itself with nobody leaving so as not to infect its neighbouring villages nor the larger town of Sheffield, even though about a third of the people who stayed behind in Eyam died.

Hathersage and the North Lees Campsite: Gateway to Stanage Edge

I pulled into the North Lees Campsite on Birley Lane, near the village of Hathersage and also quite close to a cave called Robin Hood’s Cave.

Sherwood Forest, where the legendary Robin Hood and his outlaws the Merry Men, plus Maid Marian, were supposed to have hung out, is quite close to the Peak District National Park.

I am sure that the outlaws headed for the hills when things grew hot. There is a marked grave in Hathersage that is supposed to be the last resting place of Robin Hood’s companion John Little: a bear-like individual, handy with a quarterstaff, whom the outlaws humorously nicknamed Little John.

Sign in Hathersage. There is a headstone (or two) at the grave.


A tree at Hathersage

Hathersage bistro

More Hathersage Scenes

Public footpath to Hathersage and Bamford: sign

The public footpath to Hathersage and Bamford, no doubt very ancient

The campsite at North Lees has hot water and sleeping pods. You can book online. It costs 12 pounds a night. From the campsite you can walk up to Stanage Edge, an area of elevated moorland and a cliff which is where the ‘Edge’ comes in, with absolutely stunning rock formations on top.

A sign at North Lees Campsite including a picture of a male ring ouzel (Turdus torquatus), a rare mountain bird which inhabits these parts. The ring ouzel is a close relative of the common or Eurasian blackbird (Turdus merula). The male ring ouzel has a white gorget which distinguishes him from the male blackbird. As with the blackbird, the female ring ouzel is brown and less conspicuous than the male.

North Lees Campsite sign with ring ouzel

Sleeping pod at the campsite

Stanage Edge information sign, with another ouzel

The cliff of Stanage Edge

On top of Stanage Edge

Even stranger rock formations on Stanage Edge

More strange, lonely rock formations on Stanage Edge

A view from the highest point on Stanage Edge. Photo by Rob Bendall (Highfields), 4 October 2010, rotated and cropped slightly for this post. Attribution permission, original via Wikimedia Commons.

The author at Stanage Edge

The lengthy escarpment of Stanage Edge was definitely one of those places where the sport of rock climbing began. In fact, the campsite used to be a rock climbers’ campground but it is now more of a family campground. It has a capacity of 350 people, but it was very quiet at night.

Stanage means stone edge itself, so Stanage Edge is really a double-up. You can see where the 'edge' bit comes from, up close.

The Edge, up close

Here is a video I made, of walking up to Stanage Edge and then, on top, spotting the rare ring ouzel and maybe even recording its cheeps!

At the campsite, I met this guy who was a climber, though, with a thirty-thousand-UK-pounds VW van which he was converting. He didn’t want to convert it, but he needed somewhere to live with his lovely dog. He used to have a wife, but his marriage broke up because of Covid. He was a social worker in charge of a boys’ home and his girlfriend was a teacher. She had a breakdown and got Covid twice and then found someone else, and he still had not got over it. He had been going to the campsite since 1992 and it was his haven. Anyway, I must have spoken to him on and off for four or five hours and he knew all the walks and could make suggestions on where to go and what to do.

We were supposed to pay to park our vehicles as well and to display a chit. There was limited parking and rangers were giving tickets. I’d found it difficult to book as the website wasn’t working and made sure to buy every chit I needed in the village. Other people didn’t seem to care that they did not have parking permission tickets to display, including the guy with the VW van and the dog. The next day he did not talk to me; it seemed that I had shamed him somehow or cost him money, that he’d actually had no intention of buying a parking chit till I came along. Why would you own an expensive vehicle and not pay camp fees?

Like Robin Hood and the Merry Men and Maid, he was obviously hiding out in the Peaks as well!

Part 2 of this post is coming out on Friday, 20 May.


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